Regan turned the car off the highway and onto the long slow loop to the surface street. As she had come over the bridge she had seen the place for the recruitment meeting: an abandoned Denny’s twenty-four hour diner. The original sign had been blown out, probably destroyed a year ago in a good windstorm and never replaced. There was a tarp over, presumably, one of the many “For Lease” signs that had sprung up like so much crabgrass during the recession. It may have been a chain restaurant but it still had owners with hopes and dreams. Now it was just an eyesore, a relic of better times. She wondered, as she drove past it, what the former owners were doing now.
She had an eternity to recover. How long did they have?
Her mind wandered to her current state. She had been granted the gift of immortality, and how had she spent the first week of it? The last six nights had been one random stumbling to the next, doing this for that vampire of note, and then running an errand for another. She thought that working would help, but all it had done was make her feel even more disconnected from her mortal life. She still had not called her parents. What would she say? “Hi, Mom! I’m totally fine, just came down with a slight case of the death, that’s all. Oh, and I’m not sure I can make brunch on Sunday. How about a midnight wine tasting?”
She steered the car, a sporty little two seater that Stacy had all but forced her to take, into a parking lot and turned it so she could see the diner. There were lights on and people moving around. The meeting was scheduled to start at midnight and she was still fairly early. There was no sense being the first to arrive and risk someone noticing her lack of breathing or pulse while waiting for things to get underway. She took out her phone and pressed a few icons on the flat display. Regan sat, listening to the dull, ringing tone.
“Regan?” Emma’s voice filled the silence. Regan lifted the device to her ear.
“Hey.” She did not know what else to say. She did not want to be alone and she had no one else to talk to.
Emma sounded worried. “Are you doing okay?”
“I’m dead.” Regan shrugged, despite being alone. “Aside from that, I suppose ‘okay’ works as a descriptor.”
“Yeah,” Emma responded, drawing out the sound. “I wish I could tell you what to do. This is one of those few places I feel pretty helpless and you know that’s not normal for me.”
“I’m not sure that advice for your former-best-friend-turned-vampire is the kind of thing you can blog about and get help from your Army of Emmys.” Calling Emma had been a mistake. She needed to face this on her own and there was so little Emma could do.
Emma’s voice was short, almost angry. “Former? When did you decide we’re not best friends?”
“I’m pretty sure that no longer being on the same side of the Predator/Prey slash means that our friendships is going to at least be strained.” She should just hang up before she made things much worse. Why had she even called? Was it to start a verbal scrap?
“Well if that’s how you feel about me, no wonder you haven’t returned any of my calls this week. Maybe you shouldn’t have called me at all if all you wanted was a fight.” That was decidedly anger. “Listen, Regan Fairchild: I held your hair out of your face during the night of the Splat Heard ‘Round the World. I was there to pick up the pieces of your heart left over after both Ronald Fowler and Trevor Bohr were done with it. I gave you the thong off of my ass when you lost yours in Lake Huron and were too scared to walk the twenty feet to our towels. I have called you or texted you every night since the wedding and I have tried to be there for you. So, if all that means you don’t think you can trust yourself not to eat me the first time my guard is down, then fine, you can be my former-best-friend.”
Regan knew Emma was right; this pity party was completely her own making. She had to get her head together.
What was she supposed to say? Emma had always been there for her, just as she had always been there for Emma. Sure, she, Regan, had been the one hugging the toilet during the Splat Heard ‘Round the World, but that paled compared Emma’s achievements in that arena celebrating her first front page story on the Huffington Post. She blinked. She could not let herself cry now, not when she was about to walk into a diner full of vampire hunters who would probably not be understanding of blood stained cheeks.
“Fine, if you don’t have anything to say, then neither do I-”
“Wait,” Regan cut in quickly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t call.” She was. “I just don’t feel like I know who I am any more. Maybe, I guess, trying to push away you was my stupid way of trying to find out if anything still mattered. I don’t know. I’ve screwed up everything. I’m sorry.”
She could hear Emma take a deep breath on the other end of the line. “You’re not stupid. A little out of sorts, maybe, but not stupid. I’m pretty sure it gets better. You just need to give it some time, maybe.” She hesitated. “What have you been doing this week? I never heard back from you.”
Regan filled her in on the week’s highlights, leaving out the part where her new friend, Stacy, could not drive her own car for fear of being pulled over for being too young to drive. Emma listened quietly until the events of earlier that night came up.
“You’re going to do what?”
“Attend a meeting of vampire hunters, yep.” Regan was resigned to this, and the likelihood she would be looking at the business end of multiple guns at some point that evening.
“And you’re going alone?”
“Yep.” She could see car a pulling into the parking lot of the diner. “It looks like people are arriving. I should probably head over there. I didn’t want to be the first but I don’t want to be the last either.”
Emma did not say anything for a few moments. “Be careful, Reg. I lost you once; I’d rather not lose my best friend twice in one week.”
“I’ll do my best to not get dead, again.” They said their goodbyes and hung up. She looked at the screen. A text from Harrison had arrived while they were talking. She had to try to find her life, again. Stacy had cautioned her against too many ties to her mortal days but, she knew there was one she needed. She pressed the Call button next to Harrison’s image.
“Hey, you’ve got my voice mail. If you got this far you know what to do when you hear the beep.”
Regan waited, nervously. The phone beeped in her ear and she remained quiet. It took a second for her mind to register that she had to talk.
“Hi, Harrison. It’s me. I’m okay, just busy now with stuff. I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. I’ve got a thing tonight but it shouldn’t go too late. I’ll call you when it’s over.”
She hung up and put the phone back on the passenger seat. A few more cars had pulled into the parking lot of the diner. She counted three more people go inside and decided it was time. She started the engine and drove across the way to join them.
The air was warm and she was starting to wonder if a skirt would have made more sense than her light wool slacks. Stacy had tried to talk her into something more casual but there had not been many options. All of the clothes she had ordered that week had been formal: jackets, slacks, pencil skirts, french-cuff dress shirts. She ran a hand along her auburn hair as she stood up from the small car and started to cross the lot to the doors. Her low heels made little sound against the asphalt. There was a man at the door, dressed in baggy black pants, and a tank top. A gaudy gold cross hung about his neck, catching the light shining down from over the door.
“Welcome,” he said extending his hands to her. “Sister...?”
“Regan,” she offered, letting him take both of her hands in greeting.
“Welcome, Sister Regan.” His smile was wide and inviting. For a moment Regan wondered if she was here to be recruited as a vampire hunter or to sell Amway products. “I’m Brother Sam. Please come in.”
Regan smiled and took a breath. She had to keep remembering to breathe. It was bad enough she had already risked him feeling how cold her hands were. She tried to focus on her blood flow as she pushed the door open and went inside.
The dining area was arranged for a meeting, all of the tables lined up facing a large screen that had been erected against the far set of windows. About a dozen people sat at the tables, facing it, all waiting curiously. A few of them talked to each other in low voices. None of them seemed to take particular notice of her entry. She moved to the middle of the area and took a seat at the end of one of the tables.
Most of the recruits were men, dressed in tee shirts and jeans for the most part. One was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up while another sported a camouflage muscle shirt. There were two other women, both dressed in black layered tank tops, their hair pulled back in matching ponytails. Regan guessed that they were sisters. A few more people slipped in as quietly as she had. It was around midnight when Brother Sam moved to the front of the assemblage.
“I’m so glad to see so many brothers and sisters here tonight,” he started, leading Regan to wonder if this was perhaps more of a prayer meeting. “Let me start off by saying a warm and sincere welcome, and share my thanks at your interest in our family. We all have our dark and painful reasons for being here, our roads of loss, of disbelief, of pain, all leading us to that final stop of acceptance that not only are vampires real, but that it is up to us to see that they never hurt another human being again.” His voice had risen with tempo and intensity as he spoke.
“Amen!” The man in the muscle shirt pumped his fist in the air as he shouted.
Brother Sam bowed his head, a little awkwardly. He continued to hold his hand over his fist, seemingly uncomfortable with his place as featured speaker on the evening. She found herself a little surprised by his apparent humility. The word ‘cute’ kept coming to mind, in and around the thought that Sam was attempting to recruit people for the group that had shot her, repeatedly, earlier that week.
“That’s great enthusiasm, Brother Glenn,” Sam said, his cheeks now turning a little red. “But this isn’t just about putting down the beasts that would prey on our loved ones.” He held out his hands. “This is about family.”
Regan looked around to see nearly everyone nodding at his words. She mimicked the motion and tried to keep the same grim face shared by the other recruits.
“I know that the lifestyle of the Hunter sounds glamorous,” Brother Sam continued. “I’m quite sure that when you were invited to come tonight it was because you were sure you’d get yourself an AR-15, a few grenades and we’d be off to see how many sets of fangs we could hang from our belts.” Regan gave a shudder. His voice was sweet, almost patronizing, as though he were reminding a class of students that being a cop was a lot of paperwork and not a lot of shootouts. “But we are more than an army out to reclaim the night.” He started to walk down the side of the tables, putting his hand on the shoulder of one of the attendees. “We are silent protectors. Imagine the chaos if our efforts were ever public. Imagine the danger if the vampires declared open war upon all humans because everyone knew of them.” He walked to Regan and put his hand on her shoulder as well. “Ours is a thankless task, one we do in the dark of night, because that is where the beasts hide.” She let out a sigh of relief when he removed his hand and continued on. She turned to watch him. “We only have ourselves to rely on, to seek comfort in, to share in the glory and the tragedy which is our new life’s work.” He rounded the tables, and walked with head bowed towards the middle of the back row. “When you become a hunter you become another link in the chainmail that guards the heart of humanity; you become part of a family.”
He stopped. Regan could not take her eyes off of him, and from what she could see in her field of vision, neither had anyone else. He had some simple charisma she just could not resist. She glanced at the sisters, seated across the rows from her. One took the other’s hand and smiled meekly. They were sweet and she wondered what had brought the two blondes to this point.
Brother Sam stretched out his arms as though to embrace them all. “If we are to be family let us know how we have been born into this great and terrible secret, the truth that the damned walk amongst us, demanding we root them out and expose them to the light of purity. Brother Glenn, would you care to go first?”
Glenn stood up quickly. Regan could hear the heels of his boots slam together as he did. He threw back his shoulders and thrust up his chin, proudly. “It’s an honor, sir.”
“Please, please,” Brother Sam cut in, shaking his hand. “We are all equals in this room. There are no officers, or presidents, or poobahs here. The only lines we need to know are ones that separate us from them, that keep the vampires from our mortal brethren, the lines that we form with our lives.”
There was a solemn moment after he finished speaking. Several heads bowed. The sisters continued to hold hands as they listened.
“Right, sorry, Brother Sam,” Glenn started again, his voice a little nervous as it broke the silence. “Well, I don’t have much to tell. I saw my first vamp when I was thirteen. I was sneaking through backyards, just for the hell of it. I hop a fence into one, and look up and there she was, sucking the blood out of Mr. Greggory right there in front of the picture window. She saw me, I know, and I’ve wondered when she was going to come after me. I figured that six years of waiting was enough and I was going to go looking for her.” He ended his introduction with a firmer voice than he had started. He nodded once and sat down again.
“Thank you, Brother Glenn.” Brother Sam looked at the sisters. “Sister Brittany, Sister Rachel, would either of you like to speak?”
One of the two stood up. “I’m Rachel, I mean Sister Rachel, and this is my younger sister Brittany.” Her cheeks took on a bright pink color as she spoke. Regan licked her lips, thinking about the messenger girl earlier that week, and the two sorority sisters she and Daryl had brought home last night. She could feel that hunger in the pit of her stomach as she watched Rachel speak. Regan had never had such thoughts about another woman, but this was not a sexual attraction. She gripped the table next to her, feeling her arm tense as it prepared to spring.
She had to breathe. She had to clear food from her mind. She had to keep it together.
“And so,” Sister Rachel was finishing, “now it’s just us and we agreed we wanted to do something about it.”
Regan blinked and watched the girl sit down again. Brother Sam thanked them for their honesty and for their courage to share their story. “Many of us know what is like to lose a family member to the vampires, few have lost two, and even fewer find themselves alone.” He reached out his hands to them. “You are not alone, Sisters. You are part of a family now.”
Regan resolved to pay closer attention to the other introductions. One of them was sure his wife had run off with a vampire. Another was told that his daughter had died of complications due to sexuallly transmitted disease, which he knew to be false. His daughter was a virgin after all. Regan bit her lip while he had talked. The man nearest to her had been bit by a vampire, a child. “She was just wandering the mall, lost and scared. I thought she needed help to find her family.” He started to cry. “I spent weeks waiting to turn into one of them, like in the movies. Now I just want to pay the little witch back for the hell she put me through.” Regan blinked and made a point to breathe again.
“Sister Regan.” Brother Sam smiled at her.
She pulled herself up and took a deep, pointed breath. For a moment she thought she might have overdone it. Everyone was watching her. Did they know already what she was?
“Well,” she started, trying to force color to her cheeks to hide her pale skin. “My best friend, uh, Emma, was just recently turned. She tried to call me, but now that I know what she is, I just don’t know if I can trust her.”
“That’s because you can’t,” Glenn interrupted. “Only a total moron thinks they can trust a vamper.”
“Now,” Brother Sam offered with a soothing voice. “We don’t judge here. Pray, continue, Sister Regan.”
Regan took another deep breath, hearing the sound echo in the space. She had overdone it, but maybe they would all just assume that was because she was nervous. “She was my best friend, my only friend, and I’m alone without her.” Regan looked around at the other lost souls in the room. “I just want to belong again.”
She sat down and looked at Brother Sam. He smiled back, then turned to someone else and invited them to talk.
Regan stopped listening again, watching everyone else watch the introductions. Most of them were confused, scared and pathetic, really. She was not even sure how many of them actually believed in vampires at all, or how many had convinced themselves that vampires had to be the reason for their ills. A few of them had their close encounters with the undead kind, and they were converts truly. None of them seemed completely sane and that scared Regan more than it reassured her.
As they finished, Brother Sam began to walk towards the front of the room. “You have heard each other’s stories, and you know why you are here. This is the time for you to leave. If you do not wish to join our family, do not wish to keep our secrets, then you are free to walk out now, and none will harass, none will hunt you, none will think of you again. Staying signals your commitment to our cause.” He clasped his hand over his fist again and studied them. None of them moved. He smiled.
“Then if someone will please turn off the lights, let me see if I can dissuade you further.” He opened a laptop while one of the other recruits found the light switches near the door. He started to flick them off one by one, leaving the diner in darkness. A projector set on the front table blazed to life, filling the projection screen with the blue colors of the computer’s desktop. Brother Sam opened a presentation file and the screen went black with the word “Predator” emblazoned in red text.
He moved on to images of bite wounds. “This is what they can do.” One image showed a woman’s neck, torn open. The next was a bloody gouge from a man’s wrist. A third showed a teen, ashen, lying in hospital bed.
Lights cut across the diner as another car pulled into the parking lot. Regan glanced out the window, recognizing the car. It was the same make and model that Harrison drove. She turned back to the screen. Rough, blurry images of people fighting were now projected. It looked like it could just be people wrestling, or it could be vampires biting humans. It was really quite hard to tell. She looked around. Most did not seem bothered by the poor photographic evidence. “These were from a few weeks ago,” Brother Sam explained, “and yes they are low quality.” He switched to another series of pictures, these showing a stretch SUV limousine. Regan felt her face paling. “These, images,” he continued, “were just from this past Monday night, and they show you the pure resilience of what we are fighting against.”
The next image showed the limo, stopped on the side of the road, its tires blown out. Then an image zoomed in on the back of it. Regan looked away, and out at the lot. Someone had gotten out of the car and was trying to see into the diner.
No one seemed to hear her question. They were all staring fixedly at the screen where a picture showed Jeremiah, clearly, leaning out of the door of the SUV, a bright muzzle flash from his rifle illuminating his features.
“Yes,” Brother Sam continued, his back to them as he narrated the slide show, “they will use the same weapons we do to keep their secrets. Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, he is a son of Satan and a blight on our world.”
Regan looked out the window again. It was definitely Harrison. He was starting to walk up to the doors, looking in the glass windows at the screen. She was not sure if he saw her, yet, but that was only a matter of time. How had he found her? Regan did not have time to worry about that now.
“But this pales in comparison to what little our weapons can do to them. Here is the picture of the she-devil we tried to slay.”
And there on the screen was a picture of Regan, one foot out of the SUV, both hands clasping the pistol, and her mouth wide in a mad cackle. Her face was lit with the glare of the headlights and high beams of their cars. A red blur from her side had to be blood splatter from the first bullet to hit her. She could still remember the feeling of the bullet’s impact, the fury of the gun as it fired, the smell of the powder.
Brother Sam continued his narration with another slide. “You can see we hit the fanged witch a half dozen times.” The picture showed her still howling into the night, blood flying from the wound in her shoulder. She had to admit the picture was unusually well taken, considering the conditions. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the two sisters staring at her. Glenn had turned around and was looking at her as well. Brother Sam had not, apparently, made the connection and continued his presentation. “And despite all of these wounds she still escaped into the night and remains out there, ready to strike when we least expect it.” He turned to face everyone. “We have no idea where she will bare her fangs, again.”
More of the small group was staring at her. Brother Sam glanced quickly from the image on the projection screen and back to Regan.
“So, guys,” Regan said standing up slowly and looking around for various ways out. “So weird that she looks just like me, right?”
She could rush the door; there were only a few people and a couple of tables in the way. She could charge towards the kitchens and hope there was a back door. That was an option as well, and would only involve barrelling over the sisters. She smiled nervously, and saw that both of the girls had slipped wooden stakes out of their hand bags. “Hey, you know,” she said putting her hands up defensively. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions, right?” She turned to Brother Sam expecting to see his calm and welcoming demeanor to allay everyone’s concerns. He had drawn, not one, but two handguns from somewhere and was holding them confidently aimed at her.
Regan resolved that if she lived, she was going to get some practice looking for guns and weapons on people. As it was, she was not going to have that chance. This time they were going to succeed where they had failed a few nights ago. This was the end.
Looking over her shoulder she could see that Harrison was watching the entire display from just outside the glass door. Perfect. She was going to die, again, without even giving him a clue what had happened when she was supposed to become his wife. He was going to watch her be shot, stabbed, staked and possibly beheaded. But worse than that he would never know that it really was not his fault.
Stacy had said that she had been able to enthrall Daryl just by trying. It was time to stop playing the victim, stop letting other people define her. She could hear her heartbeat beginning to echo in her ears. She feel it rushing through her. She had cheated death, done the impossible, and for that she was mighty. She was not a beast to be put down, she was a creature of the night to be feared. It was time to take this new life out for a spin.
It was time to be a vampire.
Our heroine is at a crossroads, dear reader. What shall she do?
The story continues into the Chapter 9 Addendum.
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